After about a month-long hiatus to write up some MLB game previews, Adam Burke’s MLB picks and analysis article returns to kick off the weekend with some baseball betting insight for those interested in how the host of The Bettor’s Box breaks down games. Everybody is in action on Friday night and there are some very interesting pitching matchups to discuss, so let’s dive in.
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PNC Park is a great pitching environment, but seeing a 6 outside of Oakland, Los Angeles, or Seattle is a very rare thing. It’s warranted on Friday night as Clayton Kershaw takes on Gerrit Cole. This is far and away the best pitching matchup of the night, though there are some sneaky good ones out there with totals of 6.5.
Remember when everybody was panicking over Kershaw a couple months ago? I guess that’s what happens when you lead the NL in ERA in four straight years and post an unsightly 4.32 ERA over your first nine starts. For Kershaw, the stuff was always elite. Bad batted ball luck and an elevated home run rate were hurting him. Over 12 starts since May 26, Kershaw has thrown 89.2 innings with 51 hits allowed, 14 runs, 11 earned, 12 walks, 119 strikeouts for a 1.10 ERA with a .162/.198/.236 slash. He hasn’t given up a run since the fourth inning on July 3. In his last four starts, Kershaw has allowed zero runs and 16 hits over 34 innings with a…45 TO 1 K/BB RATIO.
So Gerrit Cole is pretty damn good as well. Cole has a 2.29/2.65/2.91 pitcher slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP) with a 14-5 record and a 138/29 K/BB ratio. Cole has taken a big step forward this season and has been the unquestioned ace of this team. His sequencing has taken a big step forward and his fastball command is among the best in the league. The concern for Cole in this game would be the Pirates offense against Kershaw compared to how the Dodgers have fared against right-handed pitching this season. The Dodgers have fallen to third in wOBA and fourth in SLG against righties, but they have been near the top of the league all season.
I don’t know what you do with this game other than watch it, savor it, and then immediately watch it again. Under 6 seems like the play here because these are two elite pitchers in a good park for pitching and these two bullpens are pretty solid at the back end as well.
Toronto at New York (AL) (-115); Total: 9
The second-ranked and fourth-ranked offenses against right-handed pitching by wOBA face off in this one as RA Dickey takes on Nate Eovaldi. This is a huge series for both teams, but especially the Blue Jays, who are now 8-0 in games with Troy Tulowitzki in the starting lineup. This game is particularly big for both teams because David Price goes on Saturday and Masahiro Tanaka goes on Sunday, so the Friday night winner has a great chance at winning the series.
The Blue Jays set the organization back with the RA Dickey/Jose Reyes trade with the Mets, in which they gave up Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud. The AL has not been kind to Dickey. With a worse park factor for pitching and better hitters overall, Dickey has not posted a FIP below 4.32 or an xFIP below 4.14. This season, Dickey’s strikeout rate has dropped to its 2011 level and his walk rate continues to be high. His knuckleball has improved a bit from last season with a .215/.279/.373 slash against, but the swinging strike rate is down again with a small velocity drop. It’s hard to trust Dickey right now, even though he has held batters to a .171/.216/.219 slash over his last 29.1 innings pitched.
Nate Eovaldi gets some of the best run support in the league, which is why he’s 11-2 with an ERA of 4.30. His advanced metrics are a bit kinder, with a 3.54 FIP and a 3.81 xFIP. This is the second straight year in which Eovaldi’s advanced metrics painted a prettier picture than his ERA. The problem for Eovaldi is that he allows a lot of hard contact because sinkers in the mid-90s do get hit hard when put in play. His .347 BABIP against is indicative of both the Yankees defense and the hard contact. His home run rate is up two percent, which is hardly a surprise with a league change and a worse park to pitch in.
The interesting matchup here will be the Jays’ right-handed heavy lineup against Eovaldi. Righties are batting .256/.297/.351, whereas lefties are batting .349/.404/.465. Over 65 percent of Toronto’s plate appearances have been by a right-handed batter this season. The Blue Jays, however, enter as the league’s second-best team in hitting fastballs and Eovaldi throws a lot of them and his four-seamer, with 47 percent usage, rates 6.7 runs below average.
Take the Blue Jays in this one, but this game should be an absolute slugfest. The Yankees definitely have a bullpen advantage, so if it’s close late, you might be in trouble. Start with the Blue Jays and live bet the Yankees if an opportunity presents late in a tie game or with the Yankees trailing after the sixth by a reasonable margin.
Boston at Detroit (-140); Total: 9
Joe Kelly and Daniel Norris are the listed starters for this matchup in Motor City. Kelly has been awful this season and that, combined a little bit of recency bias from Norris’s last start, puts this line where it is. It won’t be easy playing out the string for these two teams. The Red Sox are always expected to succeed and the Tigers have been given the same mandate under 86-year-old owner Mike Ilitch, who “let Dave Dombrowski pursue other opportunities” because he did the same thing and tried to save what was a team headed for disaster.
One of those franchise-saving tactics was to acquire Norris in the David Price deal. In Norris, the Tigers have a high-upside starter with spotty control that lives in a van down by the Detroit River. The swing-and-miss stuff has always been there for the southpaw, but too many of his starts can be labeled “effectively wild” because of the walk rate. As a fly ball guy, Comerica Park will be a lot better for him than Rogers Centre. The question is whether or not the strikeout numbers will translate from the minors because MLB hitters are more disciplined.
The Red Sox offense ranks 12th in runs scored, even though they are ninth in plate appearances with men on base. With Cleveland’s off day on Thursday, the Red Sox retook the lead in the American League in most runners left on base. They project to have some chances in this one given Norris’s wildness, but will they cash in?
Joe Kelly hopes so. Kelly is an interesting pitcher because he should be a lot better than he is. He was a good swingman for the Cardinals from 2012-14 before the Red Sox acquired him midway through the 2014 season. He has a 6.11 ERA because he has only managed to strand 62.6 percent of baserunners and has a .331 BABIP against. His fastball sits mid-90s and induces a lot of ground balls, but his command of the pitch is poor, leading to a lot of hard contact.
It’s hard to know what to expect from either of these guys in this start. The best bet would be to lay the price with Norris, who should have success at Comerica Park with the spacious outfield. Kelly’s reverse splits with a .306/.385/.474 slash against righties are also a concern here.
The reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom, takes on Jake Odorizzi in a great pitching matchup at The Trop. So far, deGrom has followed up his excellent 2014 with an even better 2015. His pitcher slash in his first full season is 2.09/2.53/2.96, improved across the board from last season thanks to a lower walk rate. His sequencing has improved as well, given the 48-point drop in BABIP, drop in line drive rate, and increase in pop up rate. His fastball command is among the best in the league and he has a good matchup here against a Rays team that ranks 27th in wOBA against RHP.
On the other side, Jake Odorizzi is throwing the ball well since his return on July 11. Odorizzi missed time from June 5 to July 11 with an injury. He was shelled by the Blue Jays coming out of the break, but has allowed three runs or less in each of his other four starts. The one concern with Odorizzi, and the Rays in general, is that rookie skipper Kevin Cash has a very short leash for his pitchers in the middle innings. Even as one of Cash’s most trusted arms, Odorizzi has only pitched more than six innings in seven of his 17 starts.
The Mets are the play in this one. They have additional bats now to be able to put together a better lineup with the DH and the Rays don’t see much of deGrom, who has great control and command.
Houston (-120) at Oakland; Total: 6.5
This game is a great pitching matchup as well between Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray. The A’s opened a small favorite overnight, but the betting market has been backing any lefty with a pulse against Oakland and Keuchel certainly has one of those. The reinvention of Dallas Keuchel that began in 2013 was something to see. Keuchel trashed his curveball for a slider and everything took off. He’s been worth over eight wins over the last two seasons and has been even better this season than last season. He’s 13-5 with a 2.35/2.68/2.61, the American League’s best ground ball rate, and a big spike in strikeouts.
He’ll face a tough customer in Sonny Gray, who is having the type of breakout season Oakland wanted to see. After showing plenty of flashes of brilliance last season, Gray’s maturation as a pitcher has been on display this season. The strikeouts are up, the walks and home runs are down, and, with it, the ERA and peripherals are up. Gray has a 2.12 ERA with a 2.89 FIP and a 3.38 xFIP. His high strand rate (80.3 percent) and low BABIP are indicators of how his feel for pitching has improved. His line drive rate of 15.1 percent is one of the lowest in the league and he has seen a 3.5 percent increase in pop ups, which are effectively strikeouts.
This line move is not a surprise. The A’s are 8-20 against left-handed starters. They are just 11-26 in one-run games and low totals mean close games. Oakland is also 23rd in wOBA against left-handed pitching. However, in spite of the line move, I like Oakland here. These are the types of starts that Gray has stepped up for, like when he shut down the Dodgers and Blue Jays in consecutive starts last month. This line will keep growing, so wait it out and take the best number.
Yet another 6.5 total as Cole Hamels takes on Hisashi Iwakuma. This game wouldn’t be on the radar without Texas’s sweep of the Astros earlier this week. Texas is on the fringes of the wild card race, currently 2.5 back, but it seemed like the Hamels trade gave the team a little bit of a bump. Ignore the fact that it was made with 2016 in mind for when Yu Darvish returns. It gave the clubhouse some life and that’s important for a team that has really overachieved most of the season. On the other side, the Mariners are a major disappoint. The future isn’t particularly bright, since Friday’s starter Hisashi Iwakuma may walk after the season and James Paxton still can’t stay healthy.
This line is a head scratcher. Hamels has put together excellent numbers throughout his career while making half of his starts in a very good hitter’s park. Safeco Field is not that. He struggled a bit in his first Rangers start, allowing five runs on eight hits over 7.2, but the trade deadline is rough on players, who have to uproot families, leave friends and teammates, and all of that stuff that we often overlook. Expect Hamels to be much more settled in for this one.
Iwakuma returned in early July from an injury that cost him all of May and all of June. As you would expect, he’s been a bit inconsistent, including four home runs allowed in that first start back. He narrowly missed a complete game against the Twins last time out and looked like the Iwakuma that Seattle expected.
The Mariners are 19th in wOBA against lefties, getting by because of their power production. Their OBP ranks 23rd, but their SLG ranks 12th. The Mariners offense has been much better, as they rank fourth in wOBA over the last 30 days. The Rangers are hit or miss offensively as well, but they rank seventh in wOBA against RHP and sixth in wOBA over the last 30 days.
A slight lean to the Rangers in this one with Hamels. His second start should be a chance to calm down and get settled in, especially to be on the road and against a less talented lineup.
San Francisco at Chicago (NL)
Minnesota at Cleveland
Miami at Atlanta